So far, 2018 has been pretty good to Ed Motta: the renowned Brazilian singer, pianist and guitarist is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of his first album, and also releasing a new album, the excellent Criterion Of The Senses, an homage to the music he loves: soul, funk and the entire AOR galaxy dominated by his beloved Steely Dan. Among the things Ed doesn't care for: today's music, soccer, the beach, insincere musicians and mixing music and politics ...
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On stage, you like to spin a story where you depart from Africa on a ship that is bound for North America. You make a stop in Brazil, and when you disembark to go to the toilet, the boat leaves without you. You find yourself stranded, listening to samba and eating feijoada while dreaming of funk and burgers!
[Laughs] I’ve been telling this story since I was very young. It came to mind when I discovered Earth, Wind & Fire in 1978 or 1979. I was a schoolboy and I was already playing guitar and studying music. I remember that my teacher, who played acoustic guitar, was crazy about Brazilian music and bossa nova in particular. But it horrified us. Not just me, but 90% of my generation. We all preferred Western pop-rock to the music of our own country. The same was true in Brazil, Mexico, Peru and all of Latin America — tastes were becoming more globalized.
You weren’t content to just play samba, bossa nova or MPB?
The roots of my repertoire, the way I write and compose, mostly stem from American music. Not only African-American styles, but also pop, folk, rock, film music, musicals … even so, I came around to Brazilian music in the early 1990s, via jazz, when I recorded my third album [Between e Ouça, 1992 — Ed.], and even more so — curiously — when I moved to New York for a year, in 1994. I studied jazz and worked on my chords and harmonies. But, when I went to record stores, instead of picking up the jazz albums that were recommended to me, I bought Brazilian records that were obviously way more expensive than back home.
Did you need to leave Brazil in order to become aware of its musical heritage?
It must be my personality. My country is suffocating to me. As you know, I’m obsessed with wine, cheese and French gastronomy. But if I were born and raised in France, I don’t know if I would have developed such a passion for any of it, because I would have been surrounded by people who were familiar with the culture. It’s the same with football [soccer] in Brazil. I hate it. I hate it with all my might! [Laughs] There is nothing I hate in my life more than football. It’s the worst stereotype of Brazilians. People’s expectations are samba, beans and football.
But do you like samba and beans?
I love beans! And I like samba … but I prefer Steely Dan! Technically, samba is extremely sophisticated. Cartola’s chord structures are immensely more complex than those of Muddy Waters, for example. But I grew up listening to the blues. My thing is international music. I don’t have an angle that is anthropological or ethnic about anything.
Where does your outlook come from? From your parents’ record collection?
No, because they loved bossa nova and traditional Brazilian music from the 1940s and 1950s, the beauty of which I learned to appreciate much later. When I was young, I hated it. I loved Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, like most young people my age. The Western influence was considerable — it still is today. Beyoncé is more popular here than any Brazilian artist. I come from the Tijuca district in Rio, which had many record stores. It was in Tijuca that Jorge Ben, Tom Jobim, Milton Nascimento, Luiz Melodia, Erasmo Carlos and my uncle, Tim Maia, were born. In the 1970s and 1980s, music was everywhere, and in the record stores you could find 95% of the English-language productions. In our group of young music lovers, the most knowledgeable among us listened to progressive rock: French bands like Ange or Magma, Italian ones like Premiata Forneria Marconi, others from Eastern Europe, as well … it was a window to the rest of the world. That’s how my collection — my sickness — began. Today, I have more than 30,000 records. From an outsider’s perspective, my musical aesthetic could be described as Americanized, in contrast with Brazilian stereotypes. I didn’t grow up on a beach. I am a city dweller. I’m the guy from Tijuca who never saw sand because he was too busy reading and watching movies.
Do you sometimes feel that you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time? Would you have liked to live in the United States in the 1970s?
I felt that when I was younger. That’s why I went to live in New York rather than Los Angeles — a more superficial city, with a beach like Rio’s, and healthy people. I have nothing against good health, but it is not always compatible with intellectual activity. However, social awkwardness certainly is! I would have liked to have lived in Japan, too. But now, I feel at home. I live in a small verdant forest in the Jardim Botânico district which inspired a Michael Franks track [on the album Tiger In The Rain, 1979 — Ed.].
So you bought a lot of records early on, whilst still a young teenager. How did you afford them?
At first, I listened to soul records (Curtis Mayfield, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Isley Brothers …) that Tim Maia had given to my mother. Then she passed them along to me because she preferred bossa nova, and they are still in my collection. As far as I can remember, since I was 8 or 9 years old, I have always owned and swapped records. So I bought a lot, starting with Earth, Wind & Fire. I was able to continue doing this because my first album quickly became successful in Brazil. It was released exactly thirty years ago [Ed Motta & Conexão Japeri, 1988 — Ed.]. I was still living with my parents and I wasn’t spending any money. So it all went towards soul, rock, blues…. It was my teenage religion.
Your musical style already seems to be in place on Ed Motta & Conexão Japeri. It hasn’t changed much in thirty years!
That is true. Over the years, the harmonies have gotten more sophisticated but the structures were already there.
Check out Ed Motta’s playlist on Qwest TV
You already mentioned Tim Maia. What role did he play in your life?
He was my mother’s youngest brother and he traveled all over the world, but not necessarily to play music. At that time, few Brazilian musicians had the opportunity to perform outside the country — what’s more, since the 1970s, it’s kind of always been the same “greats” who tour internationally. But I grew up with his music from my early childhood. So when I listened to Sly and the Family Stone for the first time, I thought, “Oh, that reminds me of my uncle!”
You say you were less influenced by Tim Maia than by Cassiano. Why?
Tim Maia made great music in a style similar to James Brown: direct and raw. Whereas Cassiano’s music evoked the sophistication of Stevie Wonder. That’s what I prefer.
Of all your 30,000 vinyl records, is it true that you that only have original presses?
Just about! They are all in excellent condition and kept in plastic sleeves. They are classified from A to Z and, for each letter, they are divided into categories: Brazilian music, Latin music and jazz itself, subdivided according to instruments and countries, etc. I can even tell you where I bought each one of them. I’m obsessed!
What is your latest acquisition?
I finally found an original pressing of The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall, by Riverside Records. I love that album.
Where do you find your records? On the Internet?
Often online, but I found the Monk in my local store, Tracks, perhaps the best record store in Rio.
On your Facebook page, you like to pose wearing T-shirts with your favorite album covers printed on the front. Do you have them specially printed?
No, I buy them on eBay or elsewhere. It’s a habit: I buy T-shirts of records that I own and have a laugh taking these photos.
You recently selected the tracks for the Too Slow To Disco compilation, which is devoted to Brazilian AOR. There are many definitions of the Adult Oriented Rock genre. What’s yours?
The terminology is still disputed. Let’s just say that the AOR covers a wide spectrum, ranging from the soft rock of the 1970s to the sensational soul-funk produced by Michael Jackson or Earth, Wind & Fire. The Japanese have had a lot of influence on this categorization because they like to find precise definitions for each genre. I love them for that.
Is Steely Dan still your favorite band of all time?
Yes, except that I don’t define them as a band. They are just two guys, two composers, and one concept. They are the most important thing to ever happen in popular music. And if I had to choose only one of the 30,000 records I have, it would be Aja, by Steely Dan, from 1977. I could go to a desert island with this one album and listen to it until my dying breath. I would be happy because it has everything I love: jazz, soul, great musicianship, ironic lyrics and sarcastic personalities.
You say that all music interests you … provided that it is from before 1983! Really?
1983 … I don’t know … more like 1982! I must only have 100 records of my 30,000 that are from after this date. When it comes to jazz, the music of my life is that of the 1950s and 1960s, then it’s the 1970s for rock, soul, funk and other music from all over the world. For example, I have a huge collection of French music. Jazz, but also Gilbert Bécaud and Claude Nougaro … I just learned the death of Charles Aznavour. I saw him live in Brazil and he dedicated a record to me. It reminds me of a day that was both crazy and sad: before my concert in Nice, I met the actor Peter Falk at Negresco, and Sacha Distel had died that day. His album with Hampton Slide [Back To Jazz, 1969 — Ed.] was one of the first French records I owned.
What happened in 1982 or 1983 that made you give up listening to newer music?
Several things: the deterioration of songwriting accelerated in this era, while the quality of the musicians declined. But it was only the beginning of the end. I couldn’t have imagined that we would fall as low as we have today. [Laughs] It’s horrible! It is not just music that has been affected. Artistic production, in general, has become completely shameful.
Is there nothing worth saving?
Technically, there are always good musicians. Nonetheless, they need something to play. The sense for composition has completely disintegrated over the last forty years. Carla Bley’s jazz and Carole King’s pop music were based on solid compositions. We don’t see that anymore. And I’m not saying that it’s the public’s fault, since that same public continued to listen to music from the 1960s and the 1970s. But we have lost our common sense. The perception of melodies and harmonies has changed, the compositions have all evolved in the same direction. In my work, I am trying to revive the music that I love and grew up with.
Is this the goal of your new album?
Yes, and it required a lot of work. The recording stretched on for almost a year before I found the right name for each title. Same for the lyrics. Each song is a little film noir. I’m the narrator of scenes in which there is talk of gamblers, drug dealers, conspiracies, science fiction … these are the kinds of scenes that can be found in the films of John Frankenheimer or John Cassavetes. But also in the Broadway musicals of the 1970s, by songwriters like Stephen Sondheim. There’s only one love song, “Sweetest Berry,” on which I wanted to recover the spirit of Marvin Gaye. The last two titles also stand out by contrasting with one another: “Your Satisfaction Is Mine” is indebted to 1980s funk, in the manner of Shalamar or Atlantic Starr, while “Shoulder Pads” is inspired by Thin Lizzy or Luis Alberto Spinetta, the great Argentinian rock star, with ironic lyrics that evoke my dichotomous relationship to the 1980s.
Do you still think your music is better suited to English than to Portuguese?
I love Brazilian music, and before I worked internationally, I wrote songs in Portuguese to pay the bills. But when I had the opportunity to export my art — and it was a long time coming — I needed to connect with a new audience.
Brazil is going through a turbulent period, but you never talk about politics. Why?
Artistically, I think it would be dishonest. Art is bigger than that. And also, I hate musicians who attract attention through a pretext of well-meaning sentiments. I have known loads of people like that, all over the world, who have proven to be complete assholes. I’m pretty nihilistic about these things. I like Jacques Tati and I think that his cinema was political in its own way. I hope my album is, too, if only because it will deflect the attention of those listeners who are content away from the vacuousness of current productions. Making music is a manifesto.
We know your love for the finer things in life. If you had the choice, what would you order for lunch?
For starters, a braid of veal and a salad, with a tasty white Burgundy, or a Saumur-Champigny, or a Chenin de Loire. For the main course, a ris de veau with mashed potatoes, drizzled with a Vosne-Romanée from the Bizot estate; for the cheese: a Chabichou from Poitou, a Crottin de Chavignol, a Reblochon, an Époisses, a Comté, a blue cheese from Auvergne and my favorite, a Mont d’Or, whilst sipping a a Bonnezeaux or a Gewurztraminer; and for dessert, a Paris-Brest cream pastry with a cup of Cédric Bouchard, the Steely Dan of champagne!
Ed Motta, Criterion Of The Senses (Membran/Sony Music)
Watch Ed Motta – Live at the New Morning on Qwest TV.
Upcoming concert dates:
- 18.10.2018 CH-Basel Parterre Basel
- 19.10.2018 DE-München Jazzclub Unterfahrt
- 20.10.2018 AT-Salzburg Jazz & the City
- 24.10.2018 SE-Stockholm Fasching
- 25.10.2018 SE-Malmö Victoriateatern
- 29.10.2018 DE-Hamburg JazzFederation im Stage Club
- 30.10.2018 FR-Paris New Morning
- 02.11.2018 DE-Bremen Theater Bremen
- 03.11.2018 DE-Hannover Jazz Club Hannover
- 07.11.2018 DE-Karlsruhe Kulturzentrum TOLLHAUS
- 08.11.2018 DE-Freiburg im Breisgau Jazzhaus Freiburg
- 09.11.2018 DE-Stuttgart Bix Jazzclub
- 10.11.2018 DE-Erfurt Franz Mehlhose
- 11.11.2018 DE-Wiesbaden Walhalla Theater
- 14.11.2018 DE-Ingolstadt Bürgerhaus Alte Post
- 15.11.2018 DE-Berlin Quasimodo
- 16.11.2018 DE-Kassel Theaterstübchen
- 17.11.2018 DE-Dresden Jazztage Dresden
- 18.11.2018 DE-Dinslaken Stiftung Ledigenheim